U.S. consumer group Consumer Reports has called for stricter limits on the use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock, saying about half of the raw chicken breasts in a nationwide sampling carried antibiotic-resistant superbug bacteria. The National Chicken Council (NCC), however, points out that the results of the sampling do not mention that Americans eat about 160 million servings of chicken every day, and 99.99 percent of those servings are consumed safely.

Consumer Reports tested for six types of bacteria in 316 raw chicken breasts purchased from retailers nationwide during July. About 49.7 percent of the chicken sampled carried a bacterium resistant to three or more antibiotics, and 11 percent had two types of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs, according to Consumer Reports.

NCC President Mike Brown said the NCC and Consumer Reports agree that it is vital to ensure a safe food supply, but added that Consumer Reports only has part of the story. U.S. chicken producers rely upon the best science, microbiology and technology to reduce food-borne pathogens, and spend tens of millions of dollars every year in the name of food-safety research which can be credited with the significant decrease in foodborne pathogens present in chicken in recent years.

"The belief that affordable food means it is lower in quality or compromised in some way stands in stark contrast to the hard work and efforts of American agriculture, USDA and the hundreds of thousands of U.S. farmers and food producers who work tirelessly to produce a quality protein that is the envy of the world and enjoyed by millions of Americans," said Brown in a statement.

From 2001 to 2010-the latest 10-year period for which data are available-outbreaks related to E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens decreased by more than 40 percent. In the past five years, Salmonella in chickens has decreased by 55 percent.

"Eliminating bacteria entirely is always the goal," Brown said.  "But in reality, it's simply not feasible.

"No legislation or regulation can keep bacteria from existing. The only way to ensure our food is safe 100 percent of the time is by following science-based procedures when raising/growing, handling and cooking it.  Right now, we're at 99.9 percent, but we're going to keep working to reach 100."